x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Luke Donald refuses to duck the hard issues in pursuit of McIlroy

Matching last year’s achievement was never going to be easy as the Englishman seeks improvements, writes Paul Radley.

Luke Donald played in the Pro AM at Jumeirah Golf Estates yesteday.
Luke Donald played in the Pro AM at Jumeirah Golf Estates yesteday.

The last time Luke Donald was sat at the speaker's table in the media centre at the Earth Course, the ambience was rather different.

At his valedictory address at the end of a record-breaking 2011 season, he was handing out drinks to the congregation, posing for pictures flexing his biceps like a fairground weightlifter and generally tripping the light fantastic. As much as someone as modest as understated as Donald could, anyway.

People were saying the Englishman's unprecedented achievement of topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic was inimitable. Or, if it could be matched, it certainly would not happen for a long, long time.

And yet here we are again 12 months later and it is already old hat. This time around Rory McIlroy has nabbed the booty and the main event has not even happened yet.

"A lot of people said winning both money titles wouldn't happen again for a long time and it only took Rory a few months to pull that feat off," Donald said.

"To do that takes a lot. It is very hard when you play both tours. You're spreading yourself quite thin and just have to play well in the right events. What he has done is an amazing achievement."

A year on and the whole scene was a touch more sombre yesterday morning when Donald arrived at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

After his memorable 2011, anything - save a major title win or two - was going to feel like a come down for the man who is still - until Sunday - the reigning Race to Dubai holder.

He has won three times this season, on three different continents and on three different tours. He won last weekend. He is No 2 in the world, above Tiger Woods.

Donald is one of the most even-tempered players in golf, so he clearly realises his current status is not all bad.

Even so, he is ready to recalibrate the way he goes about his business. After this weekend, he will have 11 weeks off, skip the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and start next season in Los Angeles instead. A retrogression, then, to the agenda which served him so well before 2011.

The golf clubs will sit in the garage for the next four weeks. The paintbrushes will come out, the football will go on the television. It will be the wending fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur causing him joy and angst, rather than the Titleist Pro golf ball.

Then he plans to hit the practice range hard. And, surprisingly for one of the most consistent performers in world golf, the list of tweaks he feels he needs to make is an exhaustive one.

He needs to "get the club in a little bit more of a neutral position" for starters. "I tend to overuse my legs at impact," he said.

"I have too much flip past impact. I'm always trying to put the least amount of pressure on my left wrist. I mean, the list goes on and on."

But need it? Is there any point in reinventing a wheel that has been rolling smoothly enough for so long now?

Well, given that the man in front is looking for those decisive increments, too, the answer might be yes.

"[At the end of the season] I can just look at my game and look at the stats and see what I can work on," McIlroy said. "You can always improve as a golfer."

The idea that McIlroy can still get better is an ominous one for the chasing pack.

All of the field need to do what they can to stop the Northern Irishman's season of triumph from becoming the Rory McIlroy Era.

"It certainly could go that way," Donald said. "I think Rory has the talent and ability to create a pretty big lead - he has got a little bit of a gap already.

"I think a few of us will be trying to chase him down, and that is good for the sport, but Rory has that ability to go away from us.

"I'll be working really hard to make sure that doesn't happen."


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